Katie Hopkins is in good spirits for somebody who has been called a faux-posh imbecile, an insufferable snob and a low-life superbitch. And these are just the insults printed in newspapers. "You should read the emails," she says, quoting from two: "'I'm gonna come round your house and take your head off with a machete... I hope your children get killed in a car crash'. It's weird stuff."
But the former Apprentice star is beaming outside a Westminster hotel, where she has been put up by an Australian television station after a late-night interview. A few hours later, on Monday morning, she is made up again for The Independent's photographer and wearing the same dress. "I have a cycle of outfits for the media," she explains.
Hopkins has offended a significant part of the population by saying she would not let her children play with those with "common" names such as Tyler or Chardonnay. Her appearance on ITV's This Morning has attracted 10 million YouTube views, many drawn to the pleas of presenter Holly Willoughby for Hopkins to "stop it!". But they only seem to encourage her, and in a week-long offensive, Hopkins will go on to be called "Britain's most hated woman".
Curious about what might unfold, I had emailed Hopkins via her website to ask if I could go along for the ride. I disagreed with everything she said, I told her, also sharing my concerns about what I might be feeding. But I wanted to find out what it pays, emotionally and financially, to court hatred, and what the rise of people such as Hopkins says about the outrage mill that large parts of the media have become.
A reply came after 13 minutes: "Love to!" By the time we meet, Sylvia, Hopkins' agent, has emailed to ask about a fee and the right to approve these words (answer: "No" and "No"). Hopkins has warned meanwhile: "If you disclose the fact I am not an absolute cow bag, me and thee will have words."
This was a joke, she explains as we walk across Westminster Bridge to find a coffee. "It was funny, no? I'm funny, aren't I? It was a funny thing. But no, look, I do believe everything I say and if that makes me a cow then this is what a cow looks like."
The week had started with an innocuous press release about the rise of unusual baby names. Hopkins got a call from a producer at This Morning, where she's a regular. She outlined her views and agreed to appear. The day before, a researcher spoke to Hopkins for about an hour.
"They are a consumer purchasing a commodity - me - and I have to demonstrate its value," she says. "They create not a script for the interview but scaffolding. That's submitted to lawyers, who draw boundaries. People mock daytime TV as unsophisticated and populated by lame idiots seeking attention, but a lot goes into it."
This account makes the shock of Willoughby and Phillip Schofield, her co-presenter, seem rather disingenuous. They knew what they were getting. Hopkins says she chatted with them afterwards, and that everyone was pleased about the debate.
Sure enough, the clip goes viral as liberal media personalities tweet comments, mostly insulting, with links to YouTube. "What are we now, 10.2 million views or whatever, I haven't seen it," Hopkins says (I check later: she was spot on). "That's a big result."
Hopkins, herself a prolific tweeter (and re-tweeter of praise) says she realised what was happening when she got a text from a friend in Dubai. "He wanted to know why people round the pool were bitching about me."
Local radio stations call first. Then Australian television. On Channel 5's The Wright Stuff, Hopkins talks about walking along Westminster Bridge with "a very left-wing journalist who wants to write about how vile I am," before repeating her views about names - and several other things. Cue more outrage, more engagements.
She writes for The Sun and The Mirror. OK! magazine rushes out photos taken before the row with a new introduction ("at home with the feisty Apprentice star!") By Friday, her offensive has come full circle with another This Morning appearance and news of a 99p e-book to be published next week called Rate My Name.
Hopkins benefits from a glut of outlets for cross people in old media- television, radio, newspapers - that are increasingly wise to the power of new media to create outrage, and boost audiences. To keep the mill turning, producers and editors need people such as Hopkins on speed dial. But she claims she's no rent-a-gob, and often says "No". She turned down a part in a debate on Radio 2 about Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson because producers wanted her to defend Nigella. She wanted instead to defend Saatchi ("brilliant men do odd things").
Nor does she do it for the money, she claims. She says she received a relatively modest £300 from This Morning, and nothing for radio. Startlingly, she even attempts to convince me she is not an attention seeker. Instead, she bills herself as a "conduit for truth", saying what the rest of us don't dare to. "The world has become so PC it could be a laptop," she says, repeating a favoured sound bite.
As we talk, she notices a family looking at her. "You might want to talk to them," she says, bounding over. "Hello, did you hear what I said about children's names?" she asks. "What's your view?" To Hopkins' delight, Mandy, the mother, agrees with her: "I'm not being funny but we're too scared to say what we should say."
Another British tourist called Melanie concedes that Hopkins "probably represents more people than we're willing to admit," but adds: "We're all a bit prejudiced but hopefully we try and overcome those prejudices."
In normal conversation, Hopkins, 38, is fine company, if moderately mad. She appears to enjoy the interest of The Independent, despite preparing not to come across well. None of the insults get to her, she says. She only bristling slightly when I recall her celebrity CV. In summary: unscreened Big Brother pilot while a student; The Apprentice (2007); I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!; photos in The People of her romping naked in a field with a married man; marriage to same man in Celebrity Four Weddings.
I suggest Hopkins is a cross between Jan Moir, the controversial Daily Mail columnist (Hopkins also writes for the Mail) and Kerry Katona, the reality television star. She has also been called "Jordan with A-levels". Either way, does she not live the life of someone she could be relied on to judge?
"I don't think so. OK, it's not the FTSE 100 but I know and people I work with know I'm true to my beliefs and that I'll defend them. People respect that. And anyway, Kerry Katona? Really?"
I call Hopkins on Wednesday. She's been at her home in Exeter, where she works as a management consultant and lives with Mark, the "field" husband, and three children. She's back in London for Channel 5's Newstalk Live, a new show dedicated to debates, to talk about guilt among mothers returning to work.
We meet at the Northern & Shell building, home to Richard Desmond's media empire (he owns the channel, as well as OK!) Also in the green room are Dickie Arbiter, a royal commentator on to talk about a certain baby, and a campaigner against the privatisation of Royal Mail. It turns out Arbiter and Hopkins share Sylvia as an agent, and that the Royal Mail man was on a campaign bus in Westminster on Monday. Hopkins had smiled and waved at it, before turning back to me and saying: "I fucking hate unions."
"So," I whisper as I reach for a copy of OK! "We're here with your agency stablemate, a magazine in which you feature, at a channel owned by the same man, and someone you swore at on a bus on Monday. This is a small world."
"Yes, it's murky, isn't it," she says before going into see the make-up artist, who also works for Madame Tussauds. And then she's live, boasting about missing every one of her children's sports days and railing against the "mammary militia" who would make her feel guilty. It's over in minutes and her adversary, from a campaign group called Mothers at Home Matter, is left shaking.
What does she make of Katie Hopkins? "Do you know what," she says, clutching a cup of water as she heads for the exit. "I'd really rather not say."
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